National Reconciliation
By Shireen M. Mazari

Clearly, as the polity struggles against polarization, divisiveness, violence and a growing hatred towards "the other", national reconciliation is perhaps the most critical balm the nation needs. Through a process of national reconciliation, we can evolve an acceptance of the diversity that defines the richness of this nation. We can begin the process of healing what is tearing our polity apart and leading to death and destruction. Perhaps we can even set our political psyche and processes on a more positive course of cooperation rather than collision, with a greater respect for differing perspectives. Equally important, we can begin to reach out to the marginalized within our polity so that they can become part of the mainstream. Perhaps most critical, we can begin to extricate ourselves from the murderous policies and agendas of both the born-again American neo-cons and the Al Qaeda-extremist combine. If the Al Qaeda leadership has openly avowed destruction for the state of Pakistan, the US is leading us down the same path through more covert ruses and designs. The result of the manner in which the US-led war on terror is being conducted has been to not only create more space for terrorists across the globe but to directly undermine the security edifice of Pakistan.
Look at what is happening to our troops in Waziristan and our civil society in not only the tribal belt but also in and around the cities of the NWFP. Terrorists are kidnapping our security personnel and murdering the poor soldiers in a blood-letting so contrary to the religion they allege to be upholding. Even more distressing are the constant reports of 'disappearances' and 'kidnappings' of soldiers and security personnel in FATA. It is as puzzling as it is sad to hear of a hundred plus armed soldiers falling prey to a dozen or so terrorists. But perhaps finding the answer to the puzzle may be a greater source of sorrow. And what of the daily threats unleashed by the extremists against the population around the cities and villages of NWFP? Women are under a state of siege, as are educational institutions and music/video shops. While the rest of urban Pakistan has been caught up in the political and judicial confrontations at the center, a dangerous extremist wave has continued to gain momentum in NWFP.
Equally threatening has been the creeping intrusion of foreign business interests into our public enterprises. Privatization has acquired a whole new meaning today in Pakistan -- almost becoming a bargain basement sale of public entities! In some cases, we have managed to alienate our most stable and constant ally, China, in the process -- something the US has been seeking for some time and using a not-so-subtle indirect approach on this front. As for the poor citizenry, they are engulfed in a spiral of increasing prices, wheat and sugar mafias, and an unresponsive state. No wonder, then, that civil society has shown its distaste for taking to the streets to protest for the cause of any political leader, even as it has come out in the thousands to lend support for the cause of the judiciary.
Amidst these trying times, one has seen a growing disconnect between the State and nation. That is why when national reconciliation became the buzzword within the power corridors of the State one hoped it would lead to a reaching out to all the diverse factors within the polity for a dialogue and an accommodation of 'the other', so that the marginalized are mainstreamed and political dissent becomes part of an all-accepting democratic culture that prevents the use of violence and spread of hate and polarization which seem to have become part of our political discourse post the Zia dictatorship. After all, 'reconciliation' literally means 'harmonization', 'making friendly again' and 'inducing acceptance'. So there was the hope that the state would take the lead in accepting the rich diversity of the Pakistani nation and of 'the other' – taking the lead which the nation could follow.
After all, if the diverse and opposing forces within the nation could gain acceptance within the political landscape, they would be compelled to function within the law. If certain laws were found wanting, then a consensus could be developed to alter them. Certainly, national reconciliation could never be thought of to mean condoning criminal acts and corruption. Alas, the nation's hopes of a grand national reconciliation have been torn asunder. The National Reconciliation Ordinance states that "it is expedient to promote national reconciliation, foster mutual trust and confidence amongst the holders of public office and remove vestiges of political vendetta and victimization", and what it seems to be doing is to condone the alleged corruption and killings by holders of public office. The use of the word 'expedient' is interesting and the fact that what is being sought is 'trust' among holders of public office. What has been found wanting is trust between the holders of public office and civil society, and this is certainly nowhere in sight. Of course, many holders of public office have yet to be convicted but does that prove their innocence? If the holders of public office, charged between January 1, 1986 and 12 October 1999, not yet convicted are to be pardoned, then is national accountability going to be only for civil society? Also, knowing how the powerful manage to flee before they can be nabbed (ouch!), why should a conviction in absentia be void ab initio (treated as invalid from the outset) given that states across the globe pass sentences against people who may have fled the country. That is presumably why Interpol exists -- to bring the guilty to book.
President Musharraf's takeover in 1999 was welcomed by so many in civil society because it brought with it the promise of accountability for the holders of public office and the hope that those who had robbed the nation or had indulged in killings and violence would now be removed from ever having access to public space again. With all the issues and conflicts that have arisen between the State and the people, the latter have never sought to take on the former to bring back the nightmares of the past. Certainly, the call for democracy and civilian rule has grown louder but not for a return to the loot and plunder and political terrorism that was our past.
Ironically, the loudest applauders for sanctifying the allegedly corrupt are those self-appointed guardians of democracy -- America and Britain. And this is perhaps our greatest tragedy: that those external powers which bode ill for our country's well-being are being allowed to indulge in political engineering in Pakistan. We recognize the threat Al Qaeda poses to our country, but the US is simply the flip side of the same coin -- as we will discover if we read our history carefully. Having found some nationalist red lines within the Pakistani state, the US has sought to seek out a far more compliant political leadership. As for democracy, having suffered a major trauma within the context of the democracy agenda in Palestine which brought Hamas electoral victory, the US is committed to preventing any successful populist electoral result. So the people of Pakistan now have to watch aghast at the thought that they may be given a US-approved political road map rather than unfettered democracy.
At the very least, if we are going to forgive and forget the alleged misdeeds of our past public office holders, we should have the South African model of truth and reconciliation so that those forgiven should at least have to confess their errors and seek forgiveness from the nation before being allowed back into public space. Now that would truly be a substantive national reconciliation.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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